The Maple Leafs have had a rough time of things as of late and unfortunately for the Leafs' organization it does not sound like the road ahead will be getting any easier from here on out.
One of the big sore points for the Leafs as of late has been the rather uninspired play of their blue line and it has become apparent over time that the Leafs are genuinely feeling the ill effects of defenseman's Jake Gardiner's absence. There was an expectation that Gardiner would be nearing a return sooner rather than later but there have been very few progress updates and in the latest 'Headlines' segment for Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet's National Hockey League insider Chris Johnston indicated that it may be a while still.
"Jake Gardiner.... the feeling is he is really not progressing as quickly as maybe originally hope," said Johnston as per Sportsnet. "Another week has passed since last week's shown and he still has not skated again. Something really stood out to me when Mike Babcock was speakjing this week. He was speaking about some of the depth defensemen Matt Marin, Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov and he made it very clear that they are auditioning for one spot on the blue line with the feeling being that Travis Dermott is much closer to returning that Jake Gardiner."
In fact Johnston's comments seemed even more dire when he made it clear that the Leafs may already be putting in motion their plans for a blue line that will not feature Jake Gardiner for a considerable length of time to come.
"The Leafs are looking at now a different blue line and it might be one without Jake Gardiner for a longer period of time."
Gardiner has obviously been a hugely important part of the Leafs defense this season recording 2 goals and 27 assists for a total of 29 points over his 60 games played for the Leafs in the 2018 - 2019 NHL regular season campaign. On top o that he had remained fairly disciplined with just 24 penalty minutes to his name and a strong plus minus rating of +17 over that stretch of play.
Gardiner has often been the focus of criticism from Leaf fans, but it certainly looks like his absence is taking a toll on the team.